ITU’s annual Facts and Figures report is unique in offering an independent and rigorously researched snapshot of the state of digital connectivity worldwide.

It serves as a key element in global efforts to “connect the world” and bring universal meaningful connectivity to everyone, everywhere. Accurate data are essential: to be sure our policies and projects are having a real impact on bridging the digital divide, we need to constantly track core connectivity indicators, and drill down into the data to reveal both unexpected sticking points, and surprising successes.

Over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we reported a “COVID-bump” that brought greater than expected numbers online. While this year’s report indicates that that acceleration in uptake has eased, figures show a generally positive trend overall, but highlight stalled progress in hardest-to-reach communities.

As the world welcomes its 8 billionth inhabitant, an estimated 5.3 billion people – roughly 66 per cent of the global population – are using the Internet. Yet some 2.7 billion people worldwide remain totally offline, with universal connectivity still a distant prospect in least developed countries and landlocked developing countries, where, on average, only 36 per cent of the population is online.

Young people remain the driving force of connectivity globally, with 75 per cent of the 15- to 24-year-old age group now online, compared with 65 per cent for the rest of the world’s population.

And while data show slow but steady growth in fixed-broadband subscriptions, mobile continues to dominate as the platform of choice for online access, particularly in low-income countries where wireline connections can be scarce and costly, notably for those living outside of major urban centres.

In poorly connected countries, two of the biggest barriers to digital uptake remain cost and digital skills. While affordability of entry-level fixed- and mobile-broadband services improved in 2022, the global gap remains far too wide. For an average consumer in a typical low-income economy, the cheapest mobile broadband basket still costs more than 9 per cent of his or her income – over six times the global average. Fixed-broadband service costs over 30 per cent, compared with less than 2 per cent in the world’s high-income countries.

At the same time, lack of digital awareness and skills, combined with other issues such as lack of content in local languages and low literacy levels, are conspiring to prevent many who could connect from doing so.

As platforms and services become ever-more sophisticated, the digital divide is increasingly being defined by people’s ability to make meaningful use of connectivity – defined as the possibility for everyone to enjoy a safe, satisfying, enriching, productive and affordable online experience.

That is why, earlier this year, ITU and the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology announced a set of ambitious new targets for universal and meaningful connectivity to be achieved by 2030.

These 15 aspirational targets, developed in response to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, provide concrete benchmarks and position sustainable, inclusive and meaningful connectivity as an essential driver of global development.

With the 2030 deadline of delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals fast approaching, identifying new strategies to achieve full digital inclusion has become a matter of utmost urgency if we are to have any hope of meeting our Global Goals.

That means working more collaboratively to solve chronic gaps in rural access, access at home and at school, digital skills training, quality and speed of connection, and equal digital opportunities for marginalized groups including women and girls, as well as striving to ensure that every country meets the affordability target set by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development of less than 2 per cent of monthly gross national income per capita.

The ITU Partner2Connect Digital Coalition is one response to this pressing challenge, and has already mobilized an unprecedented USD 29.2 billion for connectivity projects around the world.

As we strive to intensify our efforts, and their impact, the importance of connectivity data has never been greater. That is why I am extremely pleased to note that the vital role we play in gathering and sharing ICT data was recognized at both our World Telecommunication Development Conference in June, and our Plenipotentiary Conference in October/November, with ITU Member States overwhelmingly endorsing ITU’s mandate to incubate, collect and disseminate ICT statistics.

ITU data are relied upon, not just by the broader UN system, but by governments, the global technology sector, development financing institutions, and the many grassroots organizations working to promote digital inclusion within their communities.

With its hard evidence and global reach, ITU’s Facts and Figures remains one of our most powerful advocacy tools to accelerate digital uptake worldwide and ensure that digital development is a key priority on every country’s agenda.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin

Director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau